NO PARENT EVER WANTS TO HAVE TO BREAK THE DEVASTATING NEWS TO THEIR CHILD THAT MUMMY OR DADDY HAS A SERIOUS ILLNESS AND THE SUBSEQUENT CONSEQUENCES OF WHAT THAT COULD MEAN FOR THEIR FAMILY. HERE, MUM-OF-TWO MICHAELAGH BROADBENT EXPLAINS WHY SHE WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK FOR HER YOUNG SONS TO HELP THEM TRY TO MAKE SENSE OF HER HUSBAND’S BRAIN TUMOUR DIAGNOSIS…
I’m not a native of Edinburgh. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but I fell in love with this city while studying for a Masters in English Literature at Edinburgh University. I met Harry, my future husband, while we were both in our early twenties and working at a summer camp in the US. Harry is from West Yorkshire but we knew this was the place where we wanted to settle and raise a family. By 2009 we had been together for three years and were both building careers. I was 24 and working in scientific publishing while Harry (25) had secured a graduate job in bankingwhen he started suffering from severe headaches. At first, he just put it down to possible eye strain, long hours working at a computer but nothing for either of us to be overly concerned about. The symptoms persisted though, bad enough for us to seek professional medical advice.At first doctors thought that Harry could possibly be suffering from a type ofepilepsy and he was booked in for an MRI scan a few months later. The result, when it came that August, was the last thing we were expecting to hear. The consultant phoned Harry while he was on a sailing trip to Cornwall to break the news that they could see a large brain tumour which was so advanced he would need to have surgery within a week. In turmoil, wewere hopeful after the first operation thatthe removed tumour would be benign… but we were not so lucky. Unfortunately, it was a Grade 3 and by October Harry was having radiotherapy. After that there was nothing we could do but hope for the best, watch and wait.
We married in 2011 and had our first son, Harry Jr. a year later. Harrycontinued to have a scan every six months with good results and we happily enjoyed six stable years. In early 2015 however, just as I discovered that I was four weeks pregnant with our second child, Harry received a new scan result which showed that the tumour was starting to grow once again. All we could do was watch and wait for anotherentire year until January 2016 when Harry had a second surgery, however they were unable to remove all of the tumour and our newborn baby Alex was only three months old when Harry started chemotherapy. It’s now 2018 and Harry continues to have a scan every six months. Thankfully he is fine for now, but our previous experience has meant we have had to have painful conversations about what the future could hold for us.
While we were waiting for Harry’s second surgery, we talked and realisedthat we would have to find a way to be honest with Harry Jr. to try to explain to him, in a child appropriate way, what was happening in our lives. We knew he was already aware that his Daddy had to go to the hospital frequently, and that he wasn’t able to do all the fun things he used to be able to do, but we never wanted him to feel that he couldn’t ask us about it. Our wish was to be as open and honest with him as we could, but without risking severely traumatising him. We decided that the best way forward was to seek professional advice and found the support we needed at Maggie’s Centre, based on the grounds of the Western General Hospital, where they agreed that we should tell Harry Jr. what was happening, but on his level. We didn’t need to explain everything, just enough.
Shortly afterwards, with a little moreconfidence, we sat Harry Jr. down andexplained to him that Daddy had some very bad cells which were making him ill. The doctors had tried to remove them all and that they were working really hard to help Daddy get better and that meant that Daddy would have to have very special medicine called Chemotherapy. I admit, it was very daunting. I didn’t want to steal my son’s innocence, however I felt that I owed it to him as his mum to be as honest as I possibly could. There was just no getting around it. I felt much more strongly that lying, or pretending it wasn’t happening, would only confuse him more. I think right at that moment I had the inspiration for my book. How do you explain something so big to such a small child?
In poetry form, the story explores the wonderful relationship of a child with their father, doing lots of fun things together they both love. But then the child starts to notice that Daddy has become ill and can’t quite do all the same things with him any more… but he’s still Dad. He still reads me stories at bedtime and tucks me in at night.
The journey through the second half of the book is something that thankfully we haven’t had to face. When the Daddy in the story passes away, I tried to show how he will always live on through the child’s precious memories. Loved ones may have physically left us, but they are always ever-present around us. I really hope that this goes some way to address all the emotions that we expect to feel with death and loss… but in as positive a way as possible.
I suppose that when life deals us a terrible blow that is beyond anything we can control, all we can do is to remember and cherish how our loved ones made us feel when they were here with us.I understand and appreciate that our natural instinct as parents is to protect our children from pain, and that this is a really difficult subject to approach, butfor those children just like mine who are coping with a parent having a terminal illness or with loss and bereavement, trying to make sense of why their lives have been turned upside down, I really hope that my book might help another parent, carer, teacher or family member at least start a conversation and ultimately provide some comfort.”
My Daddy Is My Superhero is out now with one-third proceeds going to Maggie’s Edinburgh. Copies can be ordered directly from the website michaelaghbroadbent.co.uk for £8.99 plus shipping.